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Yin Yoga - An Overview


Most forms of yoga target the muscles with shorter held postures and a more dynamic way of moving. We can call this a Yang type of Yoga; it targets the Yang tissues of the body, the muscles. The muscles however only make up about 50% of the body.

The other half are the Yin tissues, the joints, the ligaments, the connective tissue. These tissues don't like to be worked in a 'Yang' way; they prefer a gentle amount of pressure over a longer period of time.

An example of this would be orthodontic braces, over time they can actually change the shape of the jaw with a reasonable (but not always comfortable) amount of pressure.

Yin tissues need to be worked in a Yin way, and this is where the practice of Yin yoga comes into play. In Yang Yoga, we engage muscles to avoid stressing the joints. In Yin yoga, we actively seek to stress the joints. Stress is healthy for the joints; they get stronger as a result.

There are three basic principles of Yin Yoga:

  1. We come to an appropriate edge in the posture. Playing our edge means we want to feel something in the pose, but we do not want to feel pain, we seek a workable edge.
  2. We resolve to remain still.
  3. We hold the posture for time.

There are tremendous mental and psychological benefits to practising Yin Yoga. Because we hold the postures for anything between 1 minute and 20 minutes (20 minutes is not recommended for beginners!), each pose becomes a mini meditation. It gives us the opportunity to go inwards and really notice what is going on inside the body. When we slow things down, we really notice more.

For more information see the book 'The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga' by Bernie Clark.


Example Poses 

Long Legged Butterfly



This variation is called Long Legged Butterfly because the feet are further away from the body, making a diamond shape between the legs.

This pose targets the hips and the spine.

Sitting up on a block helps to tilt the pelvis forward which allows you to come forward more.

If you have any problems with the lower back, you do not need to round the back. You can fold at the hips instead. However, rounding the spine will provide a healthy stress for the spine. You can play your edge by using a block between your legs, maybe starting at the highest setting and as you are able to sink lower move to a lower setting. If you feel pain, it's too much, find a workable edge.
You can also rest on a bolster or a cushion or whatever you have to hand.

If you experience pain in the knees, you can support the knees by placing blocks or cushions underneath them.

You can have your arms in various positions. I am holding my feet, but you can also rest your arms by your side or relax the arms behind the body.

You can hold this posture for a good length of time, 7 to 10 minutes. Always feel free to come out earlier if your body tells you to. When you are ready to come out of the pose, come out carefully, use your hands to push against the floor and slowly roll up.
Lean back on your hands to release the hips and slowly straighten your legs.

This posture can stimulate the Gall Bladder meridian on the outside of the legs and the Urinary Bladder meridian running along the spine in the lower back.


Reclining Twist

A twist at the end of your practice is a great way to balance out the nervous system and release tension in the spine. 

Start by lying on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Open your arms out to the side like wings and drop your knees to one side. I am doing the two- legged version but you can also straighten the bottom leg, or you could twist the legs like Eagle legs (providing an additional internal rotation for the hips)

You can direct the knees lower or higher depending on which part of the spine you want to affect. If the knees are higher, this will bring the twist to the upper spine, if the knees are lower it will affect the lumbar spine/sacrum.

It will also target the shoulder joint.

If your shoulder is coming off the floor, you can place a bolster or a block under the knees. If the shoulder still floats, you can place a folded up blanket underneath the shoulder.

Don't force your way in, let gravity do the work.

You can experiment with how you turn your head to see how the sensations change. If you experience any dizziness, don't turn the head. If you feel any tingling in the fingers, you should lower the arms as this could be indicative of a compressed nerve.

You can hold this pose for three to five minutes on each side.

When you are ready to come out of the pose, hug your knees to your chest and relax in Savasana.

The twist provides a compression of the stomach and a massage for the internal organs. Twisting the spine stimulates the Urinary Bladder meridian, and if one arm is raised overhead, several meridians in that arm are stimulated- the heart, the lungs, the small intestines and the large intestines.

I have just completed my Yin Yoga teacher training and will be teaching my first Yin Yoga class at Hot Bikram Yoga Bristol. If you are interested in trying it for yourself, please contact the studio for further info. 

Posted by Laura McDonald


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